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A man can run from many things but one thing he cannot run from is his own conscience. Wherever a man goes his conscience follows him just as much as his shadow and is a constant companion. It is a man's witness to himself and to God of his character as it relates to his willingness or unwillingness to abide in what he considers to be that which is right and good. The conscience cannot be a man's perfect guide for it like man's intellect must be properly trained to be useful. Throughout history men have committed atrocities in all good conscience against other men. Men have burned other men at the stake, slit the throats of others, sacrificed their children as burnt offerings all in good conscience because the conscience was misinformed and untaught in righteousness. Yes, that goes for the Catholics who burned men at the stake in the Middle Ages as well as all others who involved themselves in such doings. Just because one has been taught from childhood a thing is right and has accepted it as fact does not mean there is truth in the doctrine one was taught and came to believe. A conscience can be trained in error just as easily as in righteousness for the conscience itself is unable to determine truth from error. It acts like a computer in the sense that it can do no more nor less than what it has been programmed to do. Sometimes consciences need to be reprogrammed. If a person is in religious error, say as an example a militant Islamist who believes murder and terrorism is God's will, his conscience needs to be retrained and educated in righteousness. The real guide man has to live by is not his conscience but God's word. The Psalmist said, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." (Psalm 119:105 NKJV) Man is to walk in (live by) God's word. Jeremiah under inspiration wrote, "O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps." (Jer. 10:23 NKJV) If it was in man to direct his own steps then conscience might well be a suitable guide but that is not what the scriptures teach. The guide is what the word of God says for only God knows what is perfect in goodness, holiness, and righteousness. Jesus said to the devil, but it is applicable to all for it remains true, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'" (Matt. 4:4 NKJV) This was originally written in Deut. 8:3 by Moses by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. No, we cannot ignore our conscience. I do not argue that we can for we cannot. I only argue that our conscience must be trained by the word of God as found in the New Testament, God's law for man today, and that we may need to retrain our conscience to bring it into accord with that word. Saul, who was to become the apostle Paul, had to when he met up with Jesus on the road to Damascus. His conversion experience (read about it in Acts 9, 22, and 26) immediately convinced him that the things he used to believe and by which his conscience had been guided were error and so he turned from them. Many today need to turn from their religious error which, because it has been improperly trained, their conscience condones. The key to such a change is to be fully persuaded. One can change without violating his conscience when fully persuaded he ought to just like Saul was. No one can advocate violating one's conscience when not fully persuaded for that in itself would be sin. "Whatever is not from faith is sin." (Rom. 14:23 NKJV) We need to read and study God's word with an open mind and heart and be willing to accept whatever we find written there. The conscience gives witness to the kind of heart we have and God reads man's heart (Acts 15:8, Jer. 17:10). It is only the pure in heart who will see God (Matt. 5:8). The conscience is a part of the heart (a part, not all). In John 8 we have Jesus confronted by those who have brought a woman to him caught in the act of adultery. They are trying Jesus, trying to get him in a tight spot, but he turns the table on them and says to them that whoever is among you without sin cast the first stone at her (John 8:7). The Bible then says, "Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one." (John 8:9 NKJV) What was convicting them? Their conscience, yes, but the conscience was the heart. Their hearts were pricking them. We find the same thing on the Day of Pentecost when Peter preached the first gospel sermon and the first converts under the Christian dispensation were made. Peter preached to them in a way to convince them that not only was Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, but that they were guilty of putting him to death (Acts 2:23,36). The Bible says when they heard this "they were cut to the heart." (Acts 2:37 NKJV) Their conscience was made to feel the guilt of sin. Until a man's conscience is greatly bothered by sin, and he must be made to feel sin's guilt for that to happen, he will not and cannot repent and be saved. A guilty conscience is a blessing from God if a man will allow it to be and will heed its call. The conscience is a witness to a man about the state of his heart. Thank God if you have a conscience that is not so hardened by sin that it does not bother you when you do wrong. Thank God it still works and is not seared. In Rom. 2:15 Paul speaks of the Gentiles who did not have the Law of Moses during that Old Testament dispensation of time and says in part of them, "who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them." (NKJV) So we learn the conscience is indeed a witness of the heart and it will either accuse us or else excuse us. The conscience gives rise to those thoughts for good or ill depending on how we have reacted to what we deemed to be right thus bringing either peace of mind or the burden of guilt. I said the conscience is a witness of the heart which perhaps I ought to explain. Our conscience tells us about our state of heart. When I see myself in my heart (my conscience making that possible) going off in the wrong direction I need to act on that and turn again to righteousness. Conscience talks to us and if properly trained prompts us to turn around and return to God. In Rom. 9:1 Paul spoke of his conscience "bearing me witness" meaning simply his conscience was perfectly clean and pure in the matter about which he spoke. When we live the truth and tell the truth our conscience becomes a character witness on our behalf. Men may not be able to read our conscience but God can and we know our conscience and thus are given confidence by its approval. In 2 Cor. 1:12 Paul speaks of the "testimony of our conscience" thus the conscience bears testimony. When it bears to us good testimony we have peace and confidence, hope and faith. Finally, I want to close with one last verse, 1 Peter 2:19, "For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully." (NKJV) Our hearts ought to be so tender towards God that we are willing to endure all wrong in order to maintain a good witness of our conscience before God. Not everything can be bought with gold. Some things, in fact many things, are of more value than gold. Things like a good name, good character, a good hope, love, faith, forgiveness, and a good conscience toward God. You can take these things with you when you die. These are the things that matter. All of Denny's articles, over 100 audio sermons by Waymon Swain, a free online Bible correspondence course, plus access by links to many other Bible study resources can all be found on Denny's web site DennySmith.Net.
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